5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2008
Manilla Road is a strange swampy band; they scream heavy metal but in a way that is more of a glance-over-spectacles-with-a-knowing-smile whilst gently musing its name rather than stomping around kicking drinks over. They come across as knowledgeable and astute in their fantasy lyrics but are never afraid of going for the jugular with simple, earthy ideas and to paraphrase Divine Victim (the song which turned me into a fan of this band) they are an `enlightened child of tree and stone' - possessing an awareness of the importance of this whole metal lark as well as being capable of expressing it terms that is very easy to comprehend.
Dare I do it? Another Jethro Tull comparison? Well, yes then, Manilla Road remind me of Jethro Tull, they both aren't above using incredibly simple musical ideas but can pull off more ambitious ones with aplomb. Like Tull, Manilla Road seem hard to pigeon-hole; much too American for NWOBHM and maybe a little more rooted in the "heavy seventies" sound to be deemed cutting edge in `83, though I couldn't really see any band putting out material of this type in the seventies, barring Sabbath of course, but they are a completely separate entity to anything else and probably were born, not in Aston; but on the Sun.
We first enter Necropolis in rousing, curious form and instantaneously my mind is filled with questions as to whether the river Styx actually had a jungle beside it. Still, it conjures cryptic fantastical images that the hackneyed cover art could never manage with surprising brevity and anthemic vitality. It's uncharacteristically up-tempo to contrast the more mid-tempo hammers-of-Cimmerians-smashing-skulls pace of the rest of the album, but then again it's always a no-brainer to start on the fast number.
Further giving weight to this idea of "Hmmm, heavy metal" Conan the Librarian vibe is the fact that Crystal Logic delivers several songs about heavy metal in a completely sincere, earnest and intelligent manner. This isn't your standard Heavy Metal is the Law song-craft (not that there is anything wrong with that) but rather dwelling on the very nature of metal and for 1983 that's very impressive. Although the title track does share the same seventies style grounding as the rest of the album it's undoubtedly thinking on a different level to, say, Gloves of Metal and songs of that ilk. It's defending a often ridiculed and attacked style with statements such as `heavy metal is life and not eternal hell' and it's done in a way which still - even today - comes across as heartfelt and not the "We are children of night and won't come in for tea!" stuff that Dio is more than capable of churning out (again, there's nothing wrong with that, it's just occasionally I like something from which I show outsiders that this metal stuff isn't all awash with teenage angst and retarded sexuality... not that there's anything wrong with that...) It's something I think we should all occasionally take a moment to think about, where would we be without heavy metal? Well, writing a review for a band that doesn't exist on a content free encyclopaedia, at present. Back in the eighties pointing out that metal has a massively positive impact on peoples lives was an incredibly valid point to make - metal was very much a whipping boy despite the fact that organised religion was still responsible for millions of people sweating in the dark and wondering just how much Mary giving birth caned!
Musically, the title track opens with an arcane riff that shifts from crushing power chords to a soaring bent note that is given further accentuation through the subtle use of reverb - which is utilised throughout the album to give sonic depth to Shelton's fret-board mysticism. This then gives way to a bustling riff that echoes the vocal melody and busy lyrical ideas of the verses with surprising excitement. Crystal Logic then takes a change into a dancing, skilful suit of guitar melodies that come across as slightly medieval.
Mark Shelton has clearly stolen the main riff for Dreams of Eschaton from Angel Witch's Angel of Death but theft is wholeheartedly condoned by this reviewer if you happen to improve on the original. I've made my views on Angel Witch known - they had good ideas in abundance it's just that they didn't develop them to their full potential and of course, Shelton's cracked voice conveys far more menace than that shrieking-patsy, Kevin Heybourne. Notably the opening folk minstrelsy goes back to those seventies bands, and with its theme of a nuclear holocaust and because of this I'd be forced into a corner to make a comparison with The Groundhogs and Thank Christ for the Bomb (although the two's dealing with the subject matter is a bit different). It's probably also worth stating that both Tony McPhee and Mark Shelton sound as if they inhabit overgrown and tangled gardens full of mossy old guitars. But the similarities don't cease their - Dreams of Eschaton comes across as a protest song, albeit one with massive riffs and flaming guitar wig outs! It's heavy metal with a hippy aesthetic, not a bad thing at all.
Taking NWOBHM influence in all the wrong ways, we do get Feeling Free Again, the straightforward rocker. It's unmistakably awful... Mark Shelton singing `hey baby' is a terrible idea and the song doesn't have nearly as many daemons as the rest of the album. Ideally, Flaming Metal Systems would be in its place, though that too doesn't fit the album's pacing or mood. I can only bang my head against a desk and wonder why a band - who otherwise displayed such compositional maturity and *cough cough splutter splutter* crystalline logic - would be stupid enough to place a poorly written and half-baked rocker in an otherwise perfect metal album. I mean look at them it's not like they are made out for Top of the Pops!
Interestingly enough for a three-piece is that the rhythm section is surprisingly downplayed and unfussy. They are a power trio but most conceivable power comes from the guitars and vocals. Well, I honestly don't mind much, as I'd rather listen to another gloriously echoed solo wail and howl like a rabid badger than a foot-on-the-drum-riser bass solo. The fact that only the guitars and vocals are ever truly accented gives an uncluttered sound to the album and perhaps a sort of minimalism that most seventies metal bands weren't capable of for a whole thirty-eight minutes. It's all part and parcel of Crystal Logic's accessibility.
Crystal Logic is a unique album - I find it fascinating that these songs are demonstrating that despite all our goblins and pentagrams heavy metal is a positive force in the lives of so many. But rather than sounding like a self-help book like that last sentence did Crystal Logic does this in a way that you perhaps wouldn't notice, after all, didn't you feel better for listening to it? I'm not sure as to whether this is Manilla Road's finest album but I'm surely going have fun finding out.